Authorities believe 7-year-old Danielle is dead, source says
By J. Harry Jones
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
February 25, 2002
It is increasingly likely that a murder charge will be sought against David Westerfield possibly as early as today for the death of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, even though her body has not been found.
A law enforcement source close to the investigation told The San Diego Union-Tribune that "investigators and prosecutors are of the belief she is dead."
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the murder charge would include special allegations that could lead to the death penalty if Westerfield is convicted.
San Diego police Chief David Bejarano would not comment specifically on the source's claim, but said a decision on whether to bring a murder charge would be made today.
"We have been working with the investigators, the District Attorney's Office and the family throughout the weekend," Bejarano said. "Even if we do file the charges, there is always still the hope that she will be found."
Westerfield, who turns 50 today, is being held in isolation in the downtown jail without bail on charges of kidnapping and burglary in connection with the disappearance of Danielle from her Sabre Springs home. Danielle last was seen Feb. 1, when her father put her to bed, police say.
Westerfield, who lives two houses from the van Dams, is scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow.
He was arrested Friday, following a three-week investigation. Authorities said DNA tests found Danielle's blood in Westerfield's motor home and on a piece of his clothing. Additional evidence was discovered on a piece of the girl's clothing in her bedroom.
One reason for bringing the murder charge now is to avoid a possible legal entanglement, a source said. Theoretically, if Westerfield were to plead guilty immediately to the kidnapping and burglary charges, his attorney might be able to argue double jeopardy if a murder charge were brought later.
The decision to charge Westerfield with murder was discussed over the weekend with Danielle's parents, Brenda and Damon van Dam, the source said.
A spokeswoman for the van Dams last night said the couple would not comment on the case until after Westerfield's arraignment.
Westerfield became the main suspect within days of the girl's disappearance when he consented to, and failed, a polygraph test, several sources have said.
His Mountain Pass Road home had been under constant surveillance by detectives and members of the media covering what has become a national story. He was arrested at his attorney's office Friday.
Bejarano said during a news conference Friday that police "believe without question that DNA evidence links Mr. Westerfield to Danielle's disappearance."
Tests on additional pieces of biological evidence are pending.
Police started looking at Westerfield because he was the only neighbor away from home the weekend Danielle disappeared. He told police he socialized with Brenda van Dam and two of her friends the evening of Feb. 1 at a Poway bar.
He said he went home alone, then drove his motor home to the desert, where he spent the weekend by himself.
Authorities and hundreds of volunteers have searched eastern San Diego County methodically, hoping to find some trace of the girl.
Yesterday, 200 volunteers hiked through the Kitchen Creek area of the Cleveland National Forest, which is dissected by Interstate 8 the freeway Westerfield likely would have driven to the desert.
Prosecuting a murder case without a body is difficult, but not impossible. Last year, a former Santee man was convicted of killing his estranged wife, Guadalupe Dailey, even though her body never has been found.